When the Jets’ upcoming season has been discussed this summer, much of the focus has been on whether Zach Wilson could improve in his second season as quarterback.
Very little has been said about another key figure in his second year on the job — head coach Robert Saleh.
As Saleh embarks on his second season, the jury is still out on him, and the 2022 season could hinge on his progression as much as on Wilson’s.
The Jets went 4-13 in Saleh’s first season on the job. Though he reenergized the franchise and fired up the fan base, head coaches are measured by wins and losses and the 2021 record did not come out in his favor.
There are reasons to believe Saleh is the right man to lead the Jets, but so far most of those have been off the field. He is an effective communicator who connects with his players as well as with people throughout the organization. His message is clear and players react well to him.
All of that is promising, but the Jets need Saleh to produce results.
People inside the organization have said Saleh is more dialed in this year after adjusting to being a first-time head coach in 2021. He understands the demands of the job and knows whom he can trust to delegate duties to. He also does not have to worry about finding a place to live and settling in with his family.
All of that should help Saleh in his second season, although he acknowledges there is plenty for him to still learn.
“I’m only two years in,” Saleh said. “I probably don’t know half the stuff that Bill Belichick knows. But I’m trying to get better.”
The leap from coordinator to head coach is a huge one. Coordinators do not have people pulling on them all day long asking for a few minutes here or a few minutes there. Saleh now understands how to best manage those demands and ensure he has time to do what got him the job in the first place — coach football.
“Just understanding the schedule, understanding the media schedule, the administrative schedule of it all, and being able to still process everything and get to the football aspect of it has been much smoother this year,” Saleh said. “Not easier, but smoother this year for me personally.”
Saleh likes to describe players’ strengths as their “superpower.” Saleh’s superpower is his ability to connect with people. His team meetings are hailed by many inside the Jets as the best they’ve ever experienced. Saleh can be engaging and has a way of delivering a message, through stories and anecdotes, that players like. He also keeps things light. On Tuesday, he had a punt-catching contest between two coaches at the end of practice as players whooped it up.
“My favorite thing about it is he’s hard on us and for good reason because we have a great opportunity, but he also makes it fun,” rookie defensive end Jermaine Johnson said. “I think that’s really fun. He’s hard on us, expects a lot but he’s also like ‘This is a game we’ve been playing since we were kids, so let’s have fun with it.’ ”
The next step for Saleh is to make all of his off-field leadership abilities translate into on-field wins. He could be more charismatic than a great politician and it won’t matter if the Jets continue to flounder.
There is no doubt the Jets’ roster is improved. They dominated the dismal Falcons over the past two days in joint practices. Saleh will enter the regular season with a better team than the Jets have had in seven years.
Having talent will help, but Saleh needs to coach them up and he also needs something that has been in short supply around the Jets — a little luck. Can Wilson make the leap? Can an offensive line that has yet to take a snap together jell in time for the season? Can the defense go from worst in the NFL to middle of the pack?
Then, there is Saleh. He spent a portion of the offseason scouting himself. He altered the practice schedule in the hope of limiting injuries. He hired a new situational game management coach to help him with in-game decisions.
“What it is that I can do better to help people around me get better? That is an everyday challenge for myself,” Saleh said. “I don’t think you ever reach the pinnacle of what you think you are. I think you’ve always got room to get better.”
There is definitely room to improve from 4-13. Plenty of people around the Jets, from players to staff members to those in the front office, believe Saleh is the man to lead the franchise out of the abyss.
Now, he has to prove them right.
This content was originally published here.